Nothing Scales Like Stupidity

from the but...-but...-outliers! dept

An argument we frequently hear in the comments is how whatever's working for sucessful artist A won't work for artists B-Z. Whether it's Jonathan Coulton giving away his music while still making $500,000/year, Joe Konrath bypassing major publishers on his way to megabucks in self-publishing or a game developer using the Pirate Bay as a distribution system, we hear the same thing: this is all well and good for whoever's being discussed, but it's no good for anyone else. John D. Cook at The Endeavour boils down the argument thusly:
Yes, that would be the smart thing to do, but it won't scale. The stupid approach is better because it scales.
And that's it, in essence. Despite the fact that creative artists have to compete with free in this day and age, many people, even some in the creative community, still believe that this is optional. So, they lash out against any artist who has chosen to attack the perceived "piracy problem" by performing such aberrational acts as "connecting with their fans" and giving them a "reason to buy." Strange how that works.

But the arguments are always there. "This only works for X." "This artist is too small/unknown/niche/etc." If they're not running through the normal gatekeepers, it's made to seem as though every success story is yet another single example whipped up in a vacuum. Maybe the problem isn't the business plan that works, it's the outdated thinking that says that if it doesn't scale, it's not worth examining. Cook responds:
If the smart thing to do doesn’t scale, maybe we shouldn’t scale.
One size will never fit all. Get over it. Look at what works and adjust per individual situation rather than looking for the simple "Plan A" that's supposedly a be-all and end-all for every creative artist. That doesn't exist any more.

Filed Under: business models, economics, scaling


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  1. identicon
    Snow, 14 Feb 2012 @ 9:43am

    you're missing the point re scaling

    Scaling is a concern for a simple reason: manhours. No big companies have enough marketing people on staff to individually market each product, thus companies look for products they can sell the same way all at the same time to a lot of people. For instance, I just got out of an editorial meeting where I was told I could develop a book if I and/or the author could first find 50 specialty stores where we could likely sell it, given that the chains might not take too many and that we've had success with books on its topic before because the authors were able to get it into those shops (although they were published so many years ago that they don't make for good sales models, given the earthquaking nature of publishing now). Then we could see if this worked for sales. OK, fine. But the larger message was this: Why bother? Is this book big enough to be given artisanal marketing? Note, I'm an editor. Marketing doesn't have time because of how many other books they have to handle.

    And the fact is, I might not do it. Before I do anything I'm going to rough out a possible advance and ask the author's agent if we're in the ballpark. If not, I'm out. If so, I'll see how big the job might be.

    Lost in all this: the book will be AMAZING. And if the author could be assured of a slot on the Today show we wouldn't have had a discussion beyond that.

    That's why Jonathan Karp's imprint 12 was so brilliant: ideally, they did one great book a month and poured all their marketing energies into it--and everyone there was a marketer, whatever their title. Yes, marketing would extend beyond a month, and they didn't always do just one, but you get the idea. Now that he's remaking S&S, it'll be interesting to see how this approach scales up.

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